march 2009

April Verch
Slab Town Records

April Verch's high, sweet voice sounds so childlike it's hard to imagine she's not a contemporary of 17-year-old Sierra Hull, to whom she bears so close a vocal resemblance (and both, in turn, pay homage to Alison Krauss with their every keening note). But Ms. Verch, now nearing 30, has been performing for 20-some years, starting as a 10-year-old in her native Pembroke, Ontario, Canada, and had released two albums (1992's Springtime and 1995's Fiddle Talk) and become used to winning fiddle and dance contests on a regular basis by the time she graduated from high school and matriculated to Berklee School of Music. Signing with Rounder in 2000, her first release, Verchuosity, served notice of what would be on display when the disc was cued up, but it wasn't until 2003's From Where I Stand that most fans learned she had a voice that sounded like angels' Heavenly chimes. Six years down the road, she's crafted a mature, striking album full of heart and heartbreak, wondrous and nuanced instrumental work and rich, rustic textures. Produced by a couple of her former band members, Stephen Mougin and Jon Weisberger, Steal the Blue is indeed "blue," and manages the neat trick of stealing a listener's heart with each new song. Should any critic grouse about Ms. Verch sounding too much like Ms. Krauss, pay the complainant no mind—when you can get deep enough into a lyric to make it seem as personally revealing as this artist does, you are blessed with a singular gift.

Wending one's way through Steal the Blue, it seems as if heartache is all about the land, but it's not consuming our heroine—witness Craig Market & Tim Stafford's poignant "The Last Greyhound." All close, affecting harmony and swirling dobro lines, it tells the tale of a young girl leaving home for the first time, traveling the world and finding out that there's no place like home, as she returns on that same grey dog to reclaim her heart's content. "You Hurt Me All Over Again," anotherTim Stafford co-write, this time with Steve Gulley, is a heartbreaker chronicling the lingering devastation of a post-breakup hurt; with a classic country melody mated to rustic mountain balladry, Verch cries out the lyrics, completely open and vulnerable in a haunting performance that balances winsome resignation with seething anger. In "The Lonely Road Back Home" by Mark Simos and Jon Weisberger, Verch laments the paramour who left her bereft and lonely; but as the song develops she grows into a recognition that the signs of flight were all around her, had she paid attention, and the story ends with Verch expressing something like resilience and a resolve to move on, wiser if scarred.

In the context of these blue moments, four instrumentals do the job of lightening the mood. The jig "Fork Creek River" is a theme and variation piece of unbridled high spirits wherein Verch alternates long, crooning sweeps of her bow with crisp, sharp melodic thrusts. Taylor Buckley's "My Friend Craig" is fiddle and mandolin showcase, the instrumentalists dancing gaily around the melody as percussionist Marc Bru thumps out a lively beat behind them. "Independence," Verch's original instrumental, is a ruminative, keening waltz, tear-stained and aching, that illustrates how in the right hands the fiddle can cut right through your heart when the melody's just right. And she closes things out on an upbeat note resonant of the fiddle tradition of Canada's Cape Breton tradition (see Natalie MacMaster for the contemporary sine qua non of this style), "Reels Tadoussac et Lindbergh," a traditional toe-tapper with Verch and percussionist Marc Bru in a festive instrumental dialogue (which includes a taste of "Turkey In the Straw" in Verch's fiddle solos) that leaps and darts all over the track in an rousing, jubilant celebration.

The penultimate number, though, sets up the lighthearted coda of "Reels Tadoussac et Lindbergh," by bringing on an all-star lineup to sing the Lord's praises with life affirming conviction. "He's Holding On To Me," by Union Station's Ron Block, is a brisk, joyous spiritual number extolling the strength accruing to those who put their faith in Jesus as they make their way through the world, with beautiful group harmony and Scott Vestal pitching in with a lively, song-length banjo solo, plus Sam Bush on mandolin, Jon Weisberger on bass, Stephen Mougin on guitar, with Patty Mitchell and Travis Book comprising the hallelujah chorus with Verch. The place where this ends is where the soul never dies. —David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024